Podiatrists, sometimes referred to as doctors of podiatric medicine (DPMs), diagnose and treat disorders, diseases, and injuries of the foot and lower leg. The 52 bones in human feet make up about 25% of all the bones in the human body, and they are surrounded by numerous muscles, nerves, ligaments, and blood vessels. Feet and lower legs are susceptible to many different disorders, such as corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, bunions, heel spurs, and arch problems; ankle and foot injuries,, deformities, and infections; and foot complaints associated with diseases such as diabetes. Podiatrists treat these disorders by prescribing medicine, ordering physical therapy, setting fractures, and performing surgery.
In order to properly diagnose foot problems podiatrists often order x rays and laboratory tests. More serious conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease may first demonstrate their presence through foot symptoms. When podiatrists encounter symptoms for these types of conditions, they refer patients to other health practitioners. A majority of podiatrists operate a solo practice, although more and more are partnering up with other podiatrists or health practitioners. Some podiatrists specialize in areas such as surgery, orthopedics, primary care, or public health.
Podiatrists need to have highly developed manual dexterity. They should possess an aptitude for science and have good interpersonal and communication skills. For those who operate their own practice, a good sense of business is essential.
In 2002, podiatrists earned a median annual salary of $94,870. The middle 50% earned between $62,500 and $139,230 per year.
Training and Education
All States in the U.S. require podiatrists to obtain a license in order to practice. Each State has separate requirements, although many States honor licenses from other States. Usually applicants must have graduated from an accredited college of podiatric medicine and pass written and oral exams. Most States require the completion of a postdoctoral residency program of at least 1 year and continuing education for license renewal. In order to qualify for admission to a college of podiatric medicine, applicants must have completed at least 90 semester hours of undergraduate study, have a minimum grade point average, and have acceptable scores on the Medical College Admission Test. Over 90% of podiatry students have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Colleges of podiatric medicine have programs that are similar to other schools of medicine and last 4 years. The first 2 years cover basic sciences, including anatomy, chemistry, pathology, and pharmacology. The third and fourth years move on to clinical rotations in private practices, hospitals, and clinics. Almost all graduates complete a residency program lasting 1 to 3 years. Podiatrists may advance to become professors at colleges of podiatric medicine, department chiefs in hospitals, or general health administrators.
In 2002, podiatrists held about 13,000 jobs. Most podiatrists were self-employed, while some worked in hospitals and for the Federal government.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of physician assistants is expected to increase about as fast as the average because the population is becoming at the same time older and more physically active. Opportunities will be best for board-certified podiatrists because many managed care organizations require board certification.
For more information on becoming a podiatrist, please see our directory of schools offering Medical Training.